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New NFC Tag Detects Tampering, Transmits That Status to Readers

Automotive, pharmaceutical and high-value brand companies are testing samples of Smartrac's Circus Tamper Loop tag with NXP's NTAG 213 TT chip built in, to identify whether a product has been tampered with and respond to interrogation with the tampered status.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 17, 2018

As part of a series of RFID-based products for authenticating high-value products and goods, Smartrac has released its Circus Tamper Loop tag, the latest in the technology company's Near Field Communication (NFC)-based Circus product line. The tag is being sold in samples to companies such as motor oil, baby food and high-value item brands, as well as pharmaceutical providers. The company reports that other potential customers are makers of premium wines and champagnes.

The small, round Circus inlays and tags transmit data via high-frequency (HF) and NFC 13.56 MHz. They are compliant with the ISO 14443A standard, and are used for brand protection, pharmaceutical and health-care products, electronics, gaming and document management. As the growth of NFC applications continues, the Circus tags are being used to provide consumers with marketing content, as well as authentication, in order to benefit brands, logistics providers, retailers and consumers.

Smartrac's Circus Tamper Loop tag
The new tamper-evident version of the Circus tag can detect whether a product to which the tag is attached has been opened or otherwise tampered with, and then transmit its status when interrogated with an HF or NFC reader or mobile phone. Smartrac describes the tag as a digital seal that provides smart packaging and brand protection. The tag can be customized according to a specific customer's form-factor requirements, says Ted Danhauser, Smartrac's sales VP for the Americas, so it can be applied to bottles, boxes or blister packs.

The tag consists of an NXP Semiconductors NTAG 213 TT chip, a version of the NTAG 213 that can detect changes in tamper loop resistance while the antenna still responds to interrogation. The tamper loop can be affixed around the opening of a product, such as a bottle cap or the top of a box. Tampering (for instance, the opening of a cap) breaks the loop antenna, thereby altering its resistance. The NXP chip detects that changed resistance and then flips a single bit, permanently, so that the tag still provides the unique ID along with that changed status.

In the automotive industry, companies must contend, in some parts of the world, with incidents of fraudulent motor oil. Those with criminal intentions may open a bottle or use an emptied receptacle to fill it with a lower-value oil or even oil that has already been used, then reapply the cap and sell the bottle as though it were new.

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